“Our assessment is that it is possible that they are ready to make a deal,” a senior administration official said Friday. “Certainly, the pressure is on.”
The talks would be the first high-level negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program since June, offering at least the prospect of a thaw in a standoff that has grown increasingly tense in recent months. The apparent movement on the diplomatic front came amid reports that Iran had agreed to concessions in a separate dispute with U.N. nuclear officials over access to an Iranian base allegedly used for nuclear weapons research.
There was no confirmation from Tehran about pending talks with world powers. On Friday, a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team expressed skepticism about a possible deal with the six-nation bloc known as the P5-plus-1. “Personally, I am not optimistic,” Mostafa Dolatyar told reporters during a visit to India. But he added: “Everything could be subject to negotiation.”
Three U.S. and European officials briefed on the preparations said Iranian negotiators were discussing a timetable for new talks, which might be held in Istanbul. Initial meetings could begin as early as next week, though they are more likely to start after the New Year’s holiday, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatically sensitive negotiations.
U.S. officials said the purpose would be to test Iranian willingness to halt certain nuclear activities as an interim step, or a “confidence-building” measure, to ease international fears that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. In exchange, Iran would be offered technical help with its civilian nuclear program and a lifting of a ban on the purchase of aircraft parts, the officials said.
The interim measures, if accepted, could be the starting point for a future “grand bargain” that would set permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for rolling back economic sanctions, the officials said.
The P5-plus-1 group — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — made similar demands during three fruitless rounds of talks with Iran in the spring. Iranian officials complained at the time that the group’s proposal did not contain sufficient sanctions relief and said they would await the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before resuming the effort. Since those talks, international sanctions on Iran have been tightened.